Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Chris Cook has looked really good in preseason games; now he's injured and will miss time (Kevin Seifert). The Vikes have been suffering some key injuries lately; while there's nothing remotely to feel good about here, at least this might be a short-term injury, and Cook can come back fairly early in the season.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


I saw what I needed from Greg Camarillo: he's an ideal possession receiver. He's got reliable hands and he can find open spots in the field. The Vikings now have three reliable go-to receivers for third down: Camarillo, Percy Harvin, and Visanthe Shiancoe. When they find themselves in 3rd and 8, Favre will find open receivers that can catch the ball. The Vikes will be fine offensively.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Greg Camarillo

According to Football Outsiders, Greg Camarillo did not have a single drop last season on his 73 targets (50 catches). The Vikings had a new need, and they seem to have filled it with a player that can be reliable and useful.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Crap (updated)

Crap. Crap.

Given that the Vikings still have Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin (I assume right now), Visanthe Shiancoe, and Adrian Peterson to throw passes to, this is not as devastating a loss as it seems. We went into 2009 unable to expect or even really count on much from Sidney Rice, yet many of us went into the season expecting huge things. Sidney Rice was a surprise emergence, but even without Rice it looked like Favre would have a good set of targets around him. I think Berrian and Harvin will just end up getting more targets. And it's possible Rice can come back at the end of the season and be productive again. I think the Viking offense, while diminished, will be fine.

Update 2
Rice says the Super Bowl is still the destination (PFT). That or a vacation to Texas. Every other time in my life anybody tried to convince me that the Vikes were going to the Super Bowl, they've been wrong and I've been disappointed. Every time. But this time !!!!! ..... ?

Either way, I will hold my head: either up, or buried in my palms.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


It was great to see E.J. Henderson not only play, but be extraordinarily active. He looks like a player that can still be a good middle linebacker. It will take longer to see if he's lost quickness or strength, but still, E.J. Henderson is a really fun player.

It looked like Asher Allen was out of position and/or taking bad angles on a few plays.

I love--love--passes to running backs. Routine, easy plays that often pick up positive yardage.

In 2008, Adrian Peterson was held under 4.44 yards per carry in just two out of 16 regular season games. That's pretty impressive. In 2009, he was held under 4.0 yards per carry in nine of 16 games. That's quite a dropoff. But when you watch Adrian Peterson run, you still see a supreme talent. If Peterson runs more like '08 than '09, we don't need Favre to match his career year again. I expect him to return to that dominating form.

NBC did a good job showing us Adrian Peterson's poor pass blocking on that one play when Favre got sacked.

Brad Childress

Pat Reusse writes a good defense of Brad Childress (Star Tribune). One of the things I often come back to is the poor state of the Vikings' skill position players when Childress took over the team: just look at the names of the leading receivers in 2006. Now their skill positions are stacked (Reusse pointed out that no team has better 1-5 skill position players than the Vikes in his last column where he tried to convince me to believe--yet another sign Reusse hates Viking fans). That talent upgrade (along with the remarkable defensive turnaround) is something that Childress, as head coach, had some role in bringing about, but isn't given much credit for.

Or maybe I just like Childress because I once heard him read at a poetry reading.

On not being over it

(or, how this blog turned into repetitive existential whining, where I'm inexplicably willing to admit the ways that the Vikings mean way too much to me)

I was just checking out this Judd Zulgad article at the Star Tribune when I came across a line that told me nothing that I didn't already know, yet floored me:

"If not for a few incredibly costly mistakes, including a Favre interception, the Vikings would have found themselves in the Super Bowl last February."

For some reason, I had to reread the sentence. And then I started reliving just how close the Vikings were to last season's Super Bowl. The Vikes as you know have never won the Super Bowl, and in my lifetime they've never been there. And they were that close. That was January, now it's August, and now I can't sleep because I read that sentence. "If not for a few incredibly costly mistakes." "The Vikings would have found themselves in the Super Bowl." They were so close. So freaking close. It's August, and that's still on my mind.

And now I know I'll never be over that loss. That's not entirely true: I won't be over that loss until the Vikings actually do win the Super Bowl. But that's the other thing: that loss took away my faith, and now in some deep way I believe the Vikings never will win the Super Bowl. I'm now one of the cynics. In some ways even the idea of them making the Super Bowl again just seems like fantasy: that's something from the Bud Grant past, never to be repeated. And yet occasionally I still literally dream that it's the day after the Super Bowl and I'm celebrating a Viking win.

All this is just a way to tell you why you should read this blog. I'm the mess who cares way too much about the Vikings, and we're now getting ready to enjoy another Viking season (their 50th!). I also do a fair job at talking myself into things, so I might be able to talk you into things. So skol on, brother. Skol on.

After watching the Vikings' 2009 Year in Review video (sadly bookended by plays from the NFC Title game--really the first time I've seen any replays of the game), I was reminded what a legitimately joyous season 2009 was. 9-0 at home, a Packer sweep, a couple exciting late game wins (49ers and Ravens), a 34-3 playoff victory over the Cowboys, 470 points and exciting pass plays all over the place, 46 sacks...it was superbly fun. The end was obviously wildly disappointing, but the season was wildly entertaining, fun, and joyful. It is one worth remembering.

With that, I try to stop dwelling on 2009, and look ahead to 2010, hoping to find more joy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fantasy Football: Head-to-Head Competition is Moronic.

This is an extended argument against head-to-head standings for fantasy football, and in favor of Cross Country standings. The concise explanation of Cross Country standings is below in bold.

In many games, head-to-head matchups are fantastic: one side competes to defeat the other, with the chance to directly confront and influence the opponent. You try to get a ball into a basket; I try to stop you. I'm trying to get a ball past a line; I have to get it past you first. You're trying to hit a ping pong ball past me, and I'm trying to hit that same ping pong ball past you.

But in some games, head-to-head matchups don't make sense, because the competitors can't directly influence each others' performance. Think about a golf tournament. Golf is best thought of as an individual sport in the purest sense: the individual competitor is competing against himself/herself to get the best score he/she possibly can. If you and I are in a golf tournament, you can have no direct impact on my score, and I can have no direct impact on your score. We can't block each other's putts: we can only each try to have the lowest score possible.

And how do golf tournaments work? Many competitors play their rounds, and at the end of the competition, the golfer with the lowest score wins the tournament, the golfer with the second-lowest score finishes second, the golfer with the third-lowest score finishes third, yada yada yada. That's the most logical and fair way to organize such a competition.

What if you structured golf tournaments differently? What if you just paired up everybody in the tournament with head-to-head matchups? In a given tournament, half the competitors would get a win, and half the competitors would get a loss (maybe there would be some ties in there). But would a bunch of single Ws and Ls really convey what happened during that golf tournament? Would we really look at that and come away with an understanding of who had the best week? And would it be fair? What happens if the second-best golfer gets paired against the best golfer? That golfer might defeat every other competitor in the tournament, but still get a loss. Think in more detail. Golfer A might shoot a -3, but be paired against a golfer shooting a -5; Golfer B might shoot a +1, but be paired against a golfer shooting a +4. At the end of the tournament, Golfer A shot a -3, Golfer B shot a +1, but Golfer A gets an L, and Golfer B gets a W.

How does that make any sense? The golfers in each matchup had no opportunity to directly influence their opponents' scores. Sure, they could have a psychological impact, and how close the matchup is might influence the golfers to play more aggressively or more safely. But that's not a direct impact. It wouldn't be fair, and in my view, it wouldn't be nearly as fun to follow.

And that's what the majority of you suckers do in your fantasy football leagues. You have no chance to impact your opponent's score, yet you get paired up in a matchup as if you can. You might score better than the majority of your league, but still get an L because of the matchup. It's moronic.

So what can be done? Total Points is probably the fairest way to determine a league champion: the goal of fantasy football is to score as many points as possible, and the total points for the season recognizes that. However, Total Points is not very fun to follow on a week-to-week basis: you don't get to follow football every week for a direct, immediate, substantial impact on your fantasy fortunes. You don't get to monitor your own team and others', fretting every extra yard, watching the fourth quarter of a Monday Night game with passion and anxiety for a late touchdown. It all adds up, but there's no immediacy and few big joyous moments. And fantasy football is supposed to be fun.

Head-to-head competition is moronic. Total points is not exciting. But there is a better way.

We call it Cross-Country Scoring.

Each week, every team competes against every other team. If there are ten teams in the league, the team with the most points that week defeated everybody else, thus going 9-0. The team with the second-most points defeated eight other teams, but lost to one team, thus going 8-1. Yada Yada Yada, the team with the least points was defeated by everybody, thus going 0-9.

Weekly Scores:
Most points: 9-0
2nd: 8-1
3rd: 7-2
4th: 6-3
5th: 5-4
6th: 4-5
7th: 3-6
8th: 2-7
9th: 1-8
10th: 0-9

These are the wins and losses for the single week. For the season standings, wins and losses from every week continue to be added up. Each week, your wins and losses for that week are added to your wins and losses for the season total. Teams scoring the same number of points in a single week have a tie, and a tie will be included in the standings for the week and the season.

The fantasy season goes all 17 weeks (no playoffs). At the end of the season, the team with the most wins is the league champion.

This is a much fairer system for standings; you get ranked where you deserve to be ranked for the week, with no matchup flukes to worry about.

It's also wildly exciting. Think about watching a Monday Night game, and how it might influence your fantasy week. If you're in head-to-head matchup, the game might be interesting to you. But if neither you nor your opponent has any players going Monday, you probably don't care. If your head-to-head matchup is a blowout that week, you probably don't care. But imagine the game differently. Imagine going into Monday night, every team in your league is competing against every other. A lot of the teams in the league will have no players going Monday, and their scores will be fixed. But a lot of teams will have players going, with opportunities to move up the weekly standings. Whether you have players going Monday Night or not, you probably have a fantasy interest in the game. You could move past somebody, or somebody could move past you. Monday Night's performances might be the difference between going 7-3 or 3-7. You could pass multiple people in the weekly standings...or multiple people could pass you in the standings. There will be several fantasy starters in the game, and what they do will matter directly to you.

Think about how wild and fun that is. And really, that isn't just happening Monday Night: you have a direct fantasy interest in virtually every NFL game you watch. And with no playoff and a league season going 17 weeks, this system keeps more league members interested in fantasy football later into the season than a head-to-head league with a playoff (where teams are eliminated from the fantasy season before the real NFL season is over).

This may sound complicated, difficult to keep track of. Admittedly, it is more complex to follow than to just look at the lineups in your head-to-head matchup (but that's exactly what makes it great). But it's not difficult to monitor. Just set your online league system to total points scoring, and then have one commissioner that tallies the scores at the end of the week to turn the scores into wins and losses, and post it on a message board, email, or blog. It usually takes me five minutes at the end of the Monday Night game (I also post the scores through Sunday night, so people know what matters Monday). That's it. If you want more details or examples about how this part works, just ask.

Look, I apologize for the abrasive attention getters. One of the great things about fantasy football is how decentralized it really is: all sorts of leagues with different traditions and different rules based on the preferences (sometimes eccentric or esoteric) of the members. I'm not interested in creating a homogenized, universal fantasy football rulebook. I'm telling you about the flaws of head-to-head and the benefits of Cross Country standings because I think you'll have more fun with Cross Country standings. Head-to-head is a major flaw at the core of most fantasy football leagues, and I think most people just haven't thought of an alternative. Well, here it is. This is your alternative.

Join the revolution. Just try it. You'll have more fun.

Questions? Objections?


It's worth emphasizing that in Cross-Country standings, you still have head-to-head competitions--you just have a head-to-head competition with every other team every week. Let's say your players are done on Sunday afternoon and you have 70 points, and going into Sunday night I have 60 points but Frank Gore playing. I'm still watching that game hoping for Frank Gore to get 10+ points so I can pass you, and whether I pass you or not is still the difference between a W or an L. It's just this W might mean not 0-1 or 1-0, but 4-5 or 5-4, and that there are yet other teams that I'm hoping to get past, and other teams behind me I'm hoping don't pass me--there are more Ws and Ls in play. So the tension of watching to see if your players can score enough to put you past a particular opponent: it's still there. It's just there multiple times a week.

Projecting Brett Favre's 2010 Stats

I have a crazy simple idea for projecting Brett Favre's 2010 statistics. I'm just going to take take the average of his 2008 and 2009 numbers and predict his 2010 numbers to roughly match that average. I think at his age, in this pass-friendly league, these are the numbers to expect.

Brett Favre's 2008-2009 average:

353-526.5 (67%), 3,837 yards, 27.5 TDs, 14.5 INTs

It's stupidly simple, but if you come back to read this blog post in January (and why on earth wouldn't you?), I think you'll see Brett Favre's numbers pretty close to the line above. Interestingly, this is almost identical to Favre's 2007 season (356-535, 66.5%, 4,155 yards, 28 TDs, 15 INTs).

Given the potential of the Vikings' running game, defense, and special teams, I would be ecstatic with those numbers. If Favre produces like that, the Vikings win 10+ games and compete for the Super Bowl.


Back at practice (Vikings.com).

At the front page of Vikings.com, you can watch a neat little highlight video of Favre from 2009 (which also serves as a reminder how good some of the Viking WRs are).


I can see why people who aren't Viking fans get tired of this. It all seems so theatrical, melodramatic, overblown. As a Viking fan, I sort of love this. It's all pretty exciting and dramatic.

I want to come back to, and highlight, some things Mark Wald wrote about Favre at Cold, Hard Football Facts:

"But none of that matters, because the guy’s a little weird. You know, can’t make up his mind, that sort of thing [...]

"The big knock on Favre these days is, of course, his waffling on retirement.

"Big deal. Hell, I’ve been trying to take Friday off from work the last six weeks. Gone so far as to schedule vacation, tell the boss, and make alternate plans. Then I end up coming in anyway because I just can’t tear myself away from the place I love it so much.

"Apparently that makes me and Favre the world’s biggest d-bags.

"And how about the fact he’s holding the poor Vikings hostage? You know, the Vikings, those trusting souls who had no clue he just might take a little while to make up his mind.

Look, if your neighbor’s wife is stepping out and he doesn’t care, then why should we? The Vikings either have the world’s biggest case of Stockholm Syndrome or they went into this with their eyes wide open. Maybe your neighbor’s wife makes one hell of a meat loaf."

I think Wald makes a good point. Maybe as a person, Favre is a bit of a flake. He's indecisive and emotional. He likes attention. He has trouble making up his mind whether, as a man old by football standards and a multimillionaire, he'd rather enjoy his life, or play a physically and mentally challenging game that he loves again. But really, who cares? Is being indecisive such a gigantic character flaw to justify the vitriol often directed at Favre? It doesn't seem like that big a deal.

But I'm glad too that now we have substance. When Favre is tooling around Mississippi and the Vikings make vague, meaningless statements, it all seems a little vaporous. His absence is so noticeable even as there is really nothing to say about it. When I see Favre on video showing up in Minnesota, talking to people with the team, it's solid. Now those personality issues, the media attention, all of that, doesn't really matter. Favre is now a football player, working with the football team. What's going to matter is on the field. He's here for the year: there's no more speculation or non-story to discuss.

Look, I don't feel that great about the Vikings' 2010 season. I really feel like 2009 was the opportunity: things came together beautifully, and the Vikes were in an NFC Championship Game that they had every chance to win, but they blew it. I don't think they'll win the Super Bowl this season. Rationally, anyway.

Emotionally, I'm ready to get back on for the ride. I'll believe anything. I'll start having dreams about the day after a Super Bowl win again. Emotionally, I'm back. Emotionally, I'll follow this team closely all season in that desperate hope that this is it, this is the year, the year it all finally happens.


One reason (Kevin Seifert).

It will be tough (Dan Wetzel).

It changes the NFC and NFC North (Dan Graziano).

Now it's about substance (Matt Bowen).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Brett Favre!

He's back in town. He's back with the Vikings (Star Tribune).

Last year, the expectation was that Favre would be a caretaker, not asked to do too much as a dominant run-first offense featuring Adrian Peterson protected him from overuse. Instead, the passing game overtook the running game, the running game often struggled, and the Vikings were at their best when Favre was winging it all over the field to a vast array of talented pass catchers.

In 2010, Viking fans have to hope for something in between last year's expectation and reality. The Vikes can't rely on Favre to duplicate last year: if they can get 85-90% of that production again, they'll be fine. But if Adrian Peterson and the offensive line become as dominant as they were in 2007 and 2008, and Favre is able to provide legitimate playmaking through the pass, the Viking offense could be virtually unstoppable.

(side note: I'm starting to feel superstitious. My wife found a purple rubber Viking bracelet this weekend and asked me what to do with it; I immediately just put it on and haven't taken it off. In that time the Vikes dominated a preseason game, Percy Harvin returned to the team, and Sidney Rice started cutting. This morning I actually put on a t-shirt with Brett Favre and AP on it--sure, it was partly the memory that Favre joined the team on the Tuesday after last year's first preseason game, but still--now he's back. Of course I was superstitious last year when I wore a different Viking shirt every day for two weeks during the playoffs...but today is a day to be happy, not to be recalling old hurts. Skol!).

1. How fun is it to watch the local news networks go around to talk to Viking rubes? I love Viking rubes.

2. Semi-serious question: right now, is Brett Favre the most beloved figure in Minnesota?

3. Make your own comment on Vikings.com's photo gallery of Favre.

On seeing where Tony Dungy is coming from

Tony Dungy doesn't like Rex Ryan's swearing, and in fact wouldn't want to hire him because of it (Shutdown Corner). OK, that sounds pretty stupid. But I think I see where Dungy is coming from: it's not about curse words, but about what curse words connote.

If you've followed Dungy's career, you know that he has a very even-keep approach to coaching. He keeps calm and poised, and he wants his team to keep calm and poised. Instead of getting too up or too down about anything, Dungy keeps a professional approach, and it's that approach that I think accounts for Dungy's remarkable consistency in his coaching record. Stay calm, stay professional.

Profanity quite frequently (though not always) can be a break from that even-keel attitude. Some people and social groups swear quite casually (I've no problem with it). But think about what swear words often convey. Frustration. Anger. Perplexity. People often swear when they lose their temper, when they lose their cool, when they lose their calm poise. Furthermore, sometimes profanity isn't just an effect of losing cool, but can cause others to lose their cool. It's about atmosphere. It's about environment.

Dungy doesn't want to be around that, and if he's building an organization, he doesn't want the other members of the organization around that. He doesn't seem to say such people shouldn't coach; he's saying that if he is running an organization, he thinks that swearing creates a negative vibe. He says he wouldn't want his players around that. He's had a remarkably successful coaching career doing things his way; it's understandable that if he were running an organization, he'd want it run the way he's coached. It's not about the swearing: it's about maintaining positive, professional calm. And I think in this way I agree with Dungy: if I were in charge of running an organization, and I was hiring managers to plan strategies, work in pressure situations, and (most importantly) supervise, utilize, and motivate employees, I would find excessive profanity a turnoff.

I mean, think about this: when adults use profanity in their professional contexts, what does it usually mean? And how do other professionals respond to somebody using profanity? How do you respond to a superior swearing at you? The answers to these questions depend a great deal on your field, of course. And profanity is not inherently the problem (my friends, family, and even my students know I'm not a prude or an innocent when it comes to profanity). People can swear and still be even-keel, and people can refrain from swearing and be a complete up-and-down mess. But from a certain point of view, isn't there something a little silly about adult professionals swearing?* Is it possible it creates a certain unhinged atmosphere, where people are a little more on edge, a little more keen to give in to anger, frustration, or perplexity?

I think it is possible.

I also think critique of Dungy's stance (like Chris Chase's at Shutdown Corner) is valid. I think swearing can often be natural, can often be good-natured, and can often still come in an atmosphere and context of calm poise. I even think Rex Ryan knows what sort of environment he's trying to create with his team. But I can see where Tony Dungy is coming from.

* from another certain point of view, isn't it a bit silly to devote any angst whatsoever to adults swearing? Yes. Yes, it is.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sidney Rice!

Progress, evidently (PFT, Strib). I'm still worried.

Percy Harvin!

He's back! (ESPN).

As much as fretting Favre, I've been fretting Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice being available, healthy, and prepared for the start of the season. I now fret slightly less.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sage! and other preseason thoughts

My crazy optimism-fueled fantasies about Sage Rosenfels aren't going away. Sure, he was doing what he did against backups, but he was also doing what he did with backups. He's an accurate thrower: he was regularly putting the ball in a receiver's hands, and sometimes the backup he was throwing to caught it, and sometimes he didn't. He's the guy currently on the roster that I trust to stand in the pocket, throw accurate passes, and complete passes downfield. Sage, your fan club includes a) your family b) some alumni at Iowa State, c) Rick Spielman, and d) me. Here's what I think: Sage Rosenfels has the ability to be an NFL starter, so when you stick him in a preseason game surrounded by backups and going against backups, he's the guy that will stand out. OK, it wasn't perfect: some of his passes were off target, and you could see the proclivity for turnovers hanging around his game. But I think he'd get more out of the Vikings' skill position players than Tarvaris Jackson can.

Other thoughts on this game:

Sam Bradford has a good arm (and I get frightened thinking of all the young QB prospects in the NFC), but he might take 90 sacks this season playing on that team. The Rams' offense looks awful.

I like Garrett Mills.

I like Chris Cook.

The Vikings' backup offensive linemen look terrible. The starters need to be healthy for this season to be successful.

Find a way to keep Joe Webb on the roster: he's fast and while his arm looks a little wild right now, he also has some touch and could develop.

So, Viking fans: those of us who spent a Saturday night watching preseason football are in a bad way. Those of us who read blogs about the game are probably worse. And those who actually blog about it? There's no hope for those lost souls.

Blizzard: the Vikings sort of play tonight

If you compare preseason football to regular season football, it's awful, sure. But if you think of it as a glorified scrimmage...well, I'd watch a Vikings scrimmage on TV. And I'd enjoy it. Maybe for a quarter.

Percy Harvin, not around (PFT, Star Tribune).

Bob Sansevere talks to Darrell Bevell (Pioneer Press).

Kevin Seifert is watching the Viking CBs (ESPN).

You won't believe this: an article about how Tarvaris Jackson is handling the current situation around him! I wish somebody had told me five years ago how much of my attention would be devoted to this guy (Viking Update).

Mark Wald with a lot of reasonable points about Brett Favre (and reaction to him) (Cold Hard Football Facts).


Fantasy football is a strange thing, especially after drafting a team. I've added some Colts-focused sites to my regular sports reading because I have so many key Colts on my fantasy team. And I do regular news searches on shitty RBs that I'm counting on. So...Michael Bush, everybody!

I've already drafted my teams, and I continue to monitor four of these 10 things Sigmund Bloom tells me to monitor (New York Times).

Ten players Chris Harris really likes (ESPN). I worry that Donald Brown will be my new Laurence Maroney: the guy I expect to explode this year, who disappoints but does just enough that next year I'm calling him the guy I expect to explode this year, and he'll disappoint but do just enough... If I drafted an entire team of these guys, Vince Young would be the captain and Vernon Davis would...wait a minute, Vernon Davis did explode last year! So it does happen! OK, I will keep drafting Maroney, Brown, and Young whenever I can. Especially Vince Young, because it generally requires a dollar at the end of an auction. I keep thinking he'll be crazy good, one of these years. I'm a true Vince Young believer.

Viking fans: we've got Al Franken!

Vegetarians: we got Lefty!

On Overtime

Life is often quite seasonal. Minnesotans (and others) who have slogged through the recent heat and humidity know that in a few months we'll be surrounded by snow and facing temperatures below zero (and that this changes everything). The shift for teachers between August and September can only be described as a change in lifestyle. So, too, is life seasonal for a football fan: if you're a die-hard, everything will be different in about a month. And there are some things we can do to prepare for it. One thing I've done is adjust my web browser: sites for football box scores, news, and stats are prominent and easy to reach, as I'll be reaching them quickly and frequently soon. Another thing I've done is clean up the DVR: football season puts quite a strain on its capacity, so I need to make as much room as possible. With that in mind, I finally got around to finishing the 1994 Vikings-Bears overtime game that has been saved in my DVR for months.

Overtime is a funny thing. To get there, one team must play another team to a dead heat, to match up so evenly that in the allotted time for a game, one team is not better than the other. An overtime game means that for sixty minutes, two teams played each other evenly. Sure, it doesn't mean just that: sometimes flukes, luck, and mistakes mean one team far outplays another and still ends up in a close game (that goes either way). But basically, accounting for all of that, the score means two teams were dead even. Yet, a winner must still be declared: no matter how even the teams are, one team gets a W and the other gets the L.

That Viking-Bear game was a little weird. Really, I would say neither team played very well. The score was as high as it was (27-27 through regulation) because of turnovers and special teams play. Neither offense really showed much: the Bears couldn't run the ball at all, the Vikes didn't score an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter (and required fourth down to do that). But the defenses weren't exactly dominant, either: they each occasionally looked hapless giving up pass plays. It was really two mediocre teams, whose strengths (like the Bears' special teams, or the Vikings' run defense) and weaknesses (like the Bears lack of explosive offensive talent, or the Vikings' pass defense) played each other to a fair draw. But somebody had to win.

What happened in overtime? The Bears won the toss and got the ball, then marched down the field passing on the Vikings. On a key third down they got stuffed with a run up the middle (which the Vikes had been stuffing all game), and Kevin Butler, he of the single-bar helmet, misses a game-winning field goal. The Vikings get the ball back, and end up winning on a nifty little play to Cris Carter: he goes in motion, gets a linebacker covering him, goes for a quick out but turns upfield, catches the ball just past the linebacker, uses fine footwork to stay in bounds, runs downfield and avoids a chasing safety to run into the endzone. Ballgame.

How did the Vikings win this game? They played an opponent to a draw. In overtime, the defense struggled, allowing Chicago to move into field goal position. Then a conservative Chicago team ran their weakness into the Viking strength. Chicago missed a field goal. Then the Vikings created a bigger offensive play than they were able to create in 60 minutes of regulation.

They played evenly. Then, for the Vikes to win, the Chicago kicker had to miss a makeable kick. Then they had to get their one big offensive play of the game. If things go differently, maybe NFL Network is still showing the game on TV a decade and a half later, but I'm probably not watching it. Watching the game now, I could sense the euphoria of a fan seeing Butler miss that kick (though I knew he would), and seeing Cris Carter catch and run for the game-winner (though I knew he would). If that happened today, I'd have waves of euphoria carrying me for a week. Still...two teams played each other evenly.

I'm actually in favor of the NFL abolishing regular season overtime. Would we really be hurt by ties? Would we be less entertained watching coaches decide whether to play not for either overtime or a win, but a tie or a win? Would we have less to talk about? Wouldn't the fourth quarter be more intense? Wouldn't the final standings be simpler to order? Wouldn't it be more fair? Wouldn't teams play it differently, and maybe more interestingly, without it? Is it the end of the world if we as fans, watching on TV or in person, got entertained by 60 minutes of football and came away with both teams playing evenly? We'd miss on the ecstasy of victory and the agony of defeat, sure. But I think it would be better--and certainly better than the idiotic sudden death overtime where the percentages give a major advantage to a team winning a coin toss.

But there are still playoffs, and so there still must be some way to determine a winner of a playoff game when two teams score evenly through 60. You can't have ties in the playoffs. I'm glad the NFL changed the playoff OT rule away from sudden death (and think they should, and will, extend it to the regular season eventually). Playoff overtime reflects the excitement and intensity of the playoff game itself: everything that has happened that season comes down to this single game, where one team wins and moves on and the other team ends its season with a loss. It's why we love the playoffs. It's why it's fun to watch, why it matters.

But I will say, seeing the Vikings lose two NFC Championship games in overtime is a bit much. I've thought for a while that if the Packers win another Super Bowl before the Vikings win their first, I'll have a hard time following football for the offseason: it just wouldn't be fun anymore (though I'd probably come around in September). But seeing the Vikings lose an NFC Championship game in overtime for a third time in my life, I'd probably just shut football down for a while. It just wouldn't be fun anymore. I've sort of recovered from my sports nervous breakdown of January (sort of. There are some big scars lingering from that freaking game that won't really go away until the Vikings actually win the Super Bowl). Being so close to the Super Bowl, then losing in overtime again? I'd wince every time I saw the color purple.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Brad Childress

Elizabeth Merrill has a long profile on Brad Childress and his background (ESPN).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Shrug and post

I had this mythology of timing built up in my head. The 1976 Minnesota Vikings went 11-2-1 in the regular season, and won their NFC playoff games by 15 and 11 points. They got to the Super Bowl, where they got throttled by the 13-1 Oakland Raiders, a team in the midst of five straight AFC Championship Game appearances. The 1977 Vikings weren't as good and missed the Super Bowl, where they would have faced the Denver Broncos, a team that got shellacked by the Cowboys and really wasn't a major playoff factor in the '70s outside of that one season. If the timing had been different, if the Viking decline didn't begin in '77, if the Vikings had peaked a year later, they could have been the ones shellacking Denver, right? Denver was a fluke Super Bowl team, right? That was the year they actually could have actually won, instead of all those other years playing the likes of Pittsburgh, Miami, and Oakland (that Kansas City upset and Drew Pearson's pushoff to cost the '75 Vikings a Super Bowl notwithstanding), right?

Well, funny things happen when you look at the numbers. The '77 Broncos were 12-2, featured the league's top run defense, and had some better internal numbers than the '76 Raiders (the '76 Raiders ranked 7th in point differential with 8.1 ppg, the '77 Broncos ranked 3rd with 9.0 ppg, the Raiders had 10.0 expected wins, the Broncos 11.4). Well, mightn't the Vikings gotten pummeled by the Broncos that year, too?

Why am I bothering to write this? Because I had a nice little post planned about the luck of timing, about cosmic hazard, and did a little research for it. I might have compared the Vikings to the Seattle Supersonics of the mid-90s (good records but lost in the first playoff round during both seasons of the Jordan vacuum, then busted through to the Finals during Jordan's return and the 72 win season--bad timing for peaking). Then I did a little research and my fun little post about Chronos fell to pieces all around me when I learned the '77 Broncos were good. If I were a paid columnist on a deadline, I might either go with the idea anyway (frame it the way I want, ignoring contradictory evidence), abandon the idea and call some contacts to see if I could build a column out of an interview (hey there, Minnesota player X, what's been different during Y?), or I'd bluster about something that's easy to bluster about. But my deadlines have to do with preparing syllabi for fall (just a few short steps away from being done), and I blog for amusement (either my own or yours, as long as somebody is entertained). So when my post idea falls apart around me, I just tell you about it.

PV's Sleeper WRs, and Fake-Sleeper WRs

My definition of a sleeper WR: a player few regard as a starter before the season (or at best, a fringe #3 starter), that will produce like a starter and be recognized as such at the end of the year. Michael Crabtree: not a sleeper. I see no ceiling on him and expect him to far exceed his draft value, but if you draft Crabtree, you're expecting starter production, and will be disappointed with less. Another thing that's not a sleeper? A flier. You can't just name a bunch of young, so-far-unproductive WRs and call them sleepers. There are dozens and dozens of WRs that haven't done anything yet but might break out. I'm listing guys I believe will break out.

I love everything about "Where's Wallace?" As a rookie he was a distant 4th in receptions on the Steelers, he's an explosive deep threat that should see more bombs coming his way with the absence of Santonio Holmes. The Steelers may throw less, but Holmes should get more targets as the #2 WR.

Shall I list the things I know about Kenny Britt?
1. He went to Rutgers.
2. He was a first round pick last season.
3. He had some nice downfield plays last season, gaining 701 yards.
4. He evidently has a lot of traffic tickets.
5. The Titans are a run-first team that hasn't had a real #1 WR since Derrick Mason left, and they've been desperately tagging somebody to take that role for years.

Yet I still like him.

Two weeks ago Berrian wasn't on this list. But Sidney Rice hasn't practiced in camp yet, Percy Harvin has missed many practices for personal reasons and is still dealing with migraines, and suddenly Berrian looks like a legitimate option. In 2007 and 2008, healthy Berrian got mediocre to awful quarterbacking and totaled over 950 yards each season. He was dealing with injuries all of 2009. Now healthy goes into 2010 with the potential of good quarterbacking, and he's a much more likely pass target for his team than he seemed a few weeks ago. That's bad news for the Vikings, good news if you draft Berrian.

Cleveland completed 49.4% of its passes last season, and only threw for 2,255 and 11 touchdowns. Let's say Jake Delhomme, a career 59.2% passer averaging 205 yards per game, brings the Cleveland air game from more-awful-than-can-be-described to decidedly-mediocre. Let's say Delhomme completes 55-59% of his passes, and the Browns, by completing more of their pass attempts get more yards, and by completing more of their pass attempts sustain drives (thus get more attempts), get up to 3,000-3,200 yards passing. Does Massaquoi's 624 yards receiving turn into 1,000+? I think it does.

Speed. Mike Martz. Speed. Mike Martz. Speed. Mike Martz. I debate considering him a flier, but I'll take a risk and call him a sleeper. Wait a minute: what risk? I write for free on a blog, I don't gamble, I don't play fantasy football leagues for money. This is a non-risk. Well, screw it, I'll go out on a non-limb and call Johnny Knox a sleeper. Plus, he has a kick-ass football player name. I think I'll just call him Mox.

I debate putting Maclin in the Crabtree you-are-supposed-to-produce category, but I'm guessing a lot of people see him as a fringe #3 WR. I think he's better than that. The Eagles throw a ton, and if a) Kevin Kolb is more accurate than McNabb, and b) Andy Reid calls shorter, safer, easier routes for Kolb, Maclin could be a major target.

Fake Sleepers
Have you ever had a reason to pretend to be asleep? Me too. So are these guys: a lot of people think they're sleeping, but I think they're just pretending.

I want to like Garcon: he's young, he's a legitimate deep threat, and he's in a pass-happy offense with the most reliable QB in the league wanting to throw deep. But I can't help but thinking that Reggie Wayne is Manning's #1 target, Dallas Clark is his #2, and after that he'll throw to whomever is on the field between Garcon, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez, Joseph Addai, and Donald Brown. Garcon is enough a deep threat that he'll make big plays and have good games, but I expect he'll put up enough dud games that you'll regret starting him.

I like old Rock Boy, I really do. I just don't see him as a fantasy starter yet.

With 56.4 receiving yards per game as a rookie in 2009, Nicks looks like a breakout player. Until you look at Eli Manning's passing yards for his previous four seasons: 3244, 3336, 3238, and 4021. If the Giants' running game and defense improves in 2010, could Manning revert to around 3,200 yards passing again? I think so. Is a return toward the mean possible? I think so. If Manning doesn't throw for 4,000 yards again, he'd have to be targeting Nicks hard (at the expense of Steve Smith and Mario Manningham) for Nicks to get to 1,000 yards. Nicks is a nice deep threat, but I don't see the targets required to make him a fantasy starter.


Percy Harvin (Kevin Seifert)

Percy Harvin's migraines (Sports Illustrated). Just seeing the word "migraine" in print makes me feel bad for Harvin.

Chris Cook (Kevin Seifert, Star Tribune). Cook could be a key player for the Vikings this season: the secondary is the weakness of the defense, so if Cook can elevate their performance... well, that is good.

Albert Young (Pioneer Press).

Bernard Berrian (Pioneer Press).

Sidney Rice (Star Tribune).

The '91 Vikings (pro-football-reference.com).

Husain Abdullah (Yahoo!).

Brett Favre's impact on the Vikings (Advanced NFL Stats).

Jay Glazer with a pretty plausible explanation of last week's text-retirement story (FOX).

Fantasy Heavy
Matthew Berry on statistical facts (ESPN). Berry is probably my favorite fantasy football writer--he regularly delivers many interesting points.

Christopher Harris on some fantasy crutch arguments (we could call them fallacies) (ESPN).

Michael Crabtree (Michael Silver).

In looking at Emmitt Smith, Bill Barnwell examines the difference between a star RB and every other RB carry on his team (Football Outsiders).

QBs under pressure (Football Outsiders).

Troy Polamalu (Fanhouse). Polamalu is probably my favorite non-Viking defensive player. So...there's that.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Fantasy Auction Draft Flexibility

We're going fantasy football wild here at PV for a few days or weeks. Nobody asked for my advice on approaching an auction draft, but here it is.

Auction drafts are fluid: everything changes as the draft moves along. If you are used to snake drafts and are participating in your first auction, the most important advice you need is to stay flexible. You should have a plan, but you don't know what will happen, and you need to adjust as it goes along. Teams' roster needs shrink, teams' available salaries shrink, sometimes certain positions cost more than others, and as the draft progresses managers' strategies even evolve. But over the years I've seen one factor alter the draft from beginning to end more than any other.

The available talent pool shrinks
With players going off the board, the number of desirable players at each position shrinks. With a diminishing number of elite players, the elite players become more valuable. Going into the draft, you may see little value difference between RB4 and RB5. However, if RB1, 2, 3, and 4 are off the board, RB5 might become more expensive. If two or more managers feel a big dropoff between RB5 and RB6, the bidding can escalate, making RB5 much more expensive than RB3 and RB4.

This year, I only view five running backs as elite: Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, and Frank Gore. After Gore, I just don't like any RBs as my #1. So in the Hazelweird Auction (300 salary cap), after Peterson, Johnson, Jones-Drew, and Rice were drafted, I was committed in the bidding to getting Frank Gore. So was one other manager. Rice had gone for 80, MJD for 99, but the two of us bid Gore up to 111.

I'm not happy about it: I wish I had stayed in the bidding on Rice or MJD. But when you're drafting in an auction, you cannot say "I don't want to pay more for RB5 than RB4 went for," because you might end up with no good RBs. The context of the draft is just too different at different points of the draft. Of course, I could have altered my strategy at that point ("Screw elite RBs--there are other ways to go"), but I didn't.

There is a better argument, however. If there are five elite RBs, and you are really committed to getting one of them, try to get one of the first two or three elite RBs thrown out for bidding. You'll probably get that player relatively cheap, as other managers know there are still other elites available later. But if you wait until all other elite RBs are off the board, and there is only one left, you'll probably have to overpay for that elite RB.

I used RBs in the example here, but in fact I've seen this phenomenon occur more frequently at WR: managers pass on a lot of quality WRs, realize late in the draft there are only a handful of quality WRs left, and then pay through the nose for those guys.

Essentially, there's little reason to save your money in a fantasy auction--spending early often means spending wisely.

The fantasy rock that is Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning has now played for 12 seasons. He has never missed a game with injury. In every season he has played, he has had at least 3,700 passing yards and 26 passing touchdowns. He's had 10 4,000 yard seasons and five 30+ TD seasons. He has never ranked lower than 7th in passing yards; he's been in the top-three nine times. He has never ranked lower than 5th in passing touchdowns; he's been in the top-three eight times. And he does this despite resting during Week 17 (and sometimes Week 16) so regularly that you even have to build that into your draft plans.

Peyton Manning is the most bankable superstar in fantasy football; if you draft him, he will give you good numbers. Maybe, of course, you have reasons for not using a high pick or auction dollars on a quarterback. The difference between the 1st and 10th QB is smaller than the difference between the 1st and 10th RB. It's easy to get a cheap QB to produce 85-90% of the top QB's production, while it is more difficult (and usually requires luck) to find a cheap RB to produce 85-90% of the top RB's production.

To win a fantasy football championship, you'll need to take some risks. You're going to draft some players knowing they have the potential to bust. You're going to have to take some players for whom you more hope than know you'll get production. But you should also draft players that you know are going to keep your team productive from week to week, who at the end of the season will have provided you with outstanding fantasy numbers.

There's really only one major negative to drafting Peyton Manning: those brutal times of wondering when the Colts will rest starters, and counting on your backups during Week 17 (if your league goes that long). I keep telling myself that won't go on forever, that after something like six straight years of resting starters Week 17, someday the Colts will actually have to play 16 regular season games hard. Someday, I guess.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Predicting This Year's Fantasy RB Bust

In 2009, there was a fantasy consensus fantasy top-four: Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, and Matt Forte. Peterson and Jones-Drew met expectations, Turner was effective but injuries caused him to miss five games, and Forte' was a total fantasy bust (and a different player, Chris Johnson, was the dominant fantasy RB).

This was not an atypical situation: usually a consensus of three to five RBs emerges as the elite, you-can-count-on-these-guys fantasy prospects, and almost always at least one of those guys is a total bust. Of course injuries happen: you always know injuries can derail a fantasy season, and RBs are especially prone to missing games, so elite RBs often disappoint because they miss games. But there are also busts that wildly disappoint even when they do play. Go to any year, and you'll likely find a consensus elite RB that struggled to put up meaningful fantasy points even when he played.

This year, there is probably a consensus top four, but I see another guy sneaking in there enough that I'll call it a consensus top five: Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, and Frank Gore. If I had to guess based on past history, two or three of these players will actually meet or exceed expectations, one or more will miss 4+ games with injuries, and one of these players will be a complete and total disappointment even when he does play.

It's impossible to predict who could miss games with injury: that can happen to anybody, even if some players have a scarier injury history in the past. But it's also tremendously difficult to predict the play-but-suck bust: if it were easy, that player wouldn't have been considered an elite prospect to begin with. Last year I would have predicted Turner the bust and Forte a reliable guy whose team context would require him to score a lot of fantasy points, but I was wrong.

Maybe the high bust rate of elite RBs is an argument against spending big money/high picks on RBs, instead choosing the more reliable QBs or WRs for your greatest resources. Or maybe we can try to guess which RB could disappoint.

Adrian Peterson (three consecutive seasons between 1,609 and 1,885 yards from scrimmage), Chris Johnson (two straight between 1,488 and 2,509), and Maurice Jones-Drew (14+ offensive TDs three of four seasons) have put up solid numbers for multiple seasons. Peterson, Johnson, and Jones-Drew are what they are at this point: unless they get injured, they will be consistent fantasy producers who also have tremendously high ceilings. That leaves two guys as possible busts: Frank Gore and Ray Rice.

Frank Gore has four consecutive seasons with 1,400+ yards from scrimmage: he's a very consistent RB. However, he only has one season with 10+ touchdowns. I fully expect 1,400+ yards from scrimmage from Gore once again (and he also has a career high of 2,180, so massive potential is there). But if things go bad for the 49ers, it's entirely possible that Gore puts up those yards with something like 4-8 TDs, which would make him a disappointing fantasy player.

Ray Rice was spectacular last season, rushing for 1,339 yards and catching 78 passes for 702 yards. I don't see a ceiling for Rice. However, he also totaled eight offensive touchdowns last season (seven rushing), even though the Ravens had a total of 22 rushing TDs last season. That's easy math: though Rice was clearly the team's best RB, they still got (or gave) 15 rushing TDs to other players. They're willing to use Rice all sorts of ways, but give goal line touches to other players. Furthermore, 78 catches and 702 receiving yards is outstanding for a RB; it's entirely possible Rice drops to a more conventional total for a good pass catching RB (say, 50 catches for 400 yards). With the addition of Anquan Boldin, some of Rice's targets might move elsewhere. And he's only had one good fantasy season, potentially putting him the the Matt Forte one-great-season-that-looks-like-the-first-in-a-run-of-productive-seasons-but-is-actually-just-one-great-season territory.

Do I think Ray Rice or Frank Gore will be a bust this season? No, I don't (in fact I just took Gore in an auction draft). But then, most fantasy prognosticators don't expect any of the elite RBs to be a bust this season, yet it's quite probable one of them will. If you're trying to guess which elite RB to avoid, I wouldn't be scared of Peterson, Johnson, or Jones-Drew at all, but I'd be a little more leery of Rice or Gore.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

What now?

The 2010 Vikings have two dominant strengths, two personnel areas that I think are as good as any in the league.

Defensive Line
Jared Allen, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams, and Ray Edwards make up a disruptive, devastating unit that rushes the passer and smothers the run. The pass rush has been much less effective on grass than on turf, but this is still a unit that can wreck an opposing offense and cover for deficiencies in the secondary.

Skill Positions
Is there an NFL team with skill position talent that you would prefer to the Vikings? They have an elite RB in Adrian Peterson, a good red zone TE in Visanthe Shiancoe, and a diverse group of WRs in Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Bernard Berrian that provide deep threat, short threat, runs after the catch, and basically any combination of things you'd want from WRs. Certainly having an elite QB to utilize the talents of those players brings out the best in them, and the Vikes will need at least mediocre quarterbacking to get to the playoffs. But remember 2007, when the Vikings' top receiving threat was Bobby Wade? Those days are long past.

I think the Vikings might need to get creative offensively: there are some things they can do with Jackson, Peterson, and Harvin in the backfield that could really electrify the field. It's also evident that if Jackson is again the starter, the focus of the team leans more on the run, so the run blocking of the offensive line will need to be more effective, and Toby Gerhart will need to provide something on 5-10 carries a game.

What do the 2010 Vikings do without Brett Favre? My guess is they eke out 8-10 wins, lose 2-3 games that they should have won, maybe get into the playoffs, and in the playoffs probably lose, but with matchups and luck, who the hell knows. The strengths of this team are enough to make them competitive any week (as has been true for most of the Childress era, actually), but the weaknesses (serious questions about the quarterback and the secondary, for starters) probably prevent them from being an elite team again. But I'll hope, because it's better to cheer with hope.

Two nights ago I had a dream that the Vikings started out 2-0; in particular, Pat Williams was just running around crushing people. For you, dear reader, I'll put my crazy purple optimism on once again. We'll get through this season together.

Oh. My. God.

I believe nothing until it's Thursday night against the Saints and Tarvaris Jackson ambles out of the huddle to the line of scrimmage. But Oh. My. God. Looks like I need to find that old Vikings blanket of mine, curl up with it, cry, and try talk myself into the Tarvaris Jackson Experience (again).